Let’s start off with the “WHY”… why are they grumpy?
For younger kids, it’s typically a matter that they lack the communication skills to let us know what exactly is bugging them. They can’t even explain it. They just go around moping and have a dark cloud over their heads. They might be resentful that someone else got to go first in a game. Or maybe their sibling ate the last cookie they thought was theirs, or that the teacher accused them of something they didn’t do. The list could go on and on. When they try to defend themselves or explain, they either can’t find the words or the people around them don’t listen. One family I was with recently had a little one in tears when mom was talking to someone else and didn’t have time to listen to him when a sibling wasn’t sharing like they were supposed to. He was in a tizzy for sure.
When their world crashes in, then they get overwhelmed and shut down and bring the rest of us down with them. It can drive us over the edge, can’t it?
For older tweens and teens, it can be similar, but in my experience these kids often have the words but feel no one is listening to them or willing to listen long enough to hear their side of the story. I’m talking mostly about family issues here, but kids can come home in a funk from school as well where classmates or teachers have done something they feel isn’t going the way it should or at least that they expect it to. They still can grump around your home and shut you out because “you don’t understand anyway”, right?
Issues like screen time can certainly trigger grumpiness at any age. If we take away a device that we feel they are abusing -- late night texting, using apps that aren’t allowed, playing games when they should be studying – we can certainly create a grumpy kid in about two seconds.
No matter the age, the issue is the same. You’ve got a grumpy kid and they’re driving you batty. What can you do? Here’s a step-by-step list that you can go through to see if you can chase the grumpies out of your home.
Step 1 – Keep Your Cool
In order to work on anything, you’ve got to have your emotions under control. If you’re kid has triggered you, take a time-out by taking a walk or a glass of water or whatever. Just know that if you’re upset and your brain is in fight-or-flight mode, you won’t be capable of effectively helping your child.
Step 2 – Offer Empathy and Hugs
Reflective listening is super helpful in times like these. No fixing should be done on this step, just love and empathy.
“Wow, I can tell you’re super unhappy right now. So sorry about that.”
“Gosh, you’re pretty upset. That’s so sad.”
Then I recommend moving to my favorite, “Hey, do you need a hug?” If they do want one, grab them and hold on. If they grumpily say, “No!” Just tell them you love them and can’t wait to chat later. Let them know by words or deeds that you’ll be there for them later. If they need some alone time, allow them to have it.
One of my parents came up with a colorful Mood Meter graphic to help her child point to how they might be feeling since they were having trouble saying how they felt. They can point to colorful squares for – angry, lonely, sad, furious, nervous, or even happy or calm. I’ll put a link to it in my show notes. Sometimes kids need to be able to point when they can’t think of the words. Put one on your fridge and see if it helps.
Step 3 - Fix the Broken Connection
In my experience as a mom and parenting coach, grumpiness can grow out of a broken connection. Your child doesn’t think you know them. If you understood, you’d KNOW, right? In two of my YouTube Lectures – Getting Kids to Listen and Communicating with Teens and Tweens, I talk about “turning off the spotlight” to connect with our kids. What this means is figuring out how to have some special time with your child, one-on-one, where you can re-bond.
A grumpy kid feels isolated and alone, misunderstood. Take them out and do something. Don’t ask about their grumpiness and the causes, just BE. Be present. I often tell parents to go for Boba Tea. Our kids seem to love Boba but if your kid is an ice cream kid, it can be ice cream. Or maybe go on a hike, make a puzzle, play a non-competitive game like Kings Corner (it’s a card game I love to tell parents about that I’ll put a link in my show notes). I love one mom who figured out she could make friendship bracelets with her daughter. Just sitting and being. Chatting about beads and string. No pressure to talk about anything else. It’s AMAZING how kids once they relax will actually start talking about what’s bothering them. The trick to “turning off the spotlight” is that you need to keep it off, no starting to hone-in and grill them about what’s wrong. If they start talking, fine, if they are still shut, you just keep being with them in a loving and supportive manner.
Step 4 – Go on a Trigger Quest and Brainstorm
When things do calm down, set up some special one-on-one time with just you and your child to talk about what just happened. Back up the scenario and try to get to the “why” of it all, what I’ll call the trigger. Here’s the time when you can brainstorm with them what to do the next time someone or something triggers them.
Let’s say brother Billy took the last cookie during a playdate. John thought in his mind that it was his cookie. In John’s mind, the cookie was illegally taken AND eaten on top of it so that he could never, ever in his life have that cookie that was his trigger that made John mad and VERY grumpy. So, the trigger was a stolen cookie. How can John deal with this if it happens next time? Can he use words? Can he alert an adult? Are there other cookies he can have? How can he use his words to effectively communicate his issue? How can he solve the problem? Is it solvable? What can he do next time he sees a cookie sitting alone on a tray?
This cookie scenario reminds us how a similar scenario happens with electronics in many homes. Let’s say mom takes away a device their daughter Jenny is playing on since Jenny hasn’t finished her homework. Jenny gets VERY upset at mom and acts like a huge grump going around the house and bumping things off tables or knocking little brother’s blocks down, maybe pulling someone’s hair.
In this case, mom, the parent, is the trigger for the grumpy mood. Again, going through Steps 1 – 3 and getting to a calm spot. We want to work on brainstorming how mom and Jenny can work together so that next time the trigger might be avoided. Can a timer be set so that Jenny knows when to get off? Is there a time limit per day that Jenny needs to figure out how to adhere to using timers or watches? When is the allowed time to play games? Should it be before homework is done, or can she and mom compromise to have 30 minutes of play then homework time? Who and how would that 30 minutes be tracked and what happens if Jenny doesn’t get off when those timers go off? Maybe they set a policy of no electronics the next day?
Doing all this brainstorming in a one-on-one setting with one child can be time-consuming at first but, if you can see the long-term benefit NOW, the investment can pay off big time in the future. If you can brainstorm things with that grumpy child, it lets them feel heard and gives them the ability to have input as to how they can choose to behave with better skills in the future. Grumpy kids need skills. These brainstorming sessions will help build them.
What sorts of triggers did some parents see when doing this brainstorming?
- They are hungry
- Their kid was tired
- They got upset when they had to do some activity they don’t want to (chores, homework, etc.)
- They got caught doing something they weren’t supposed to
- They felt picked on
- They felt left out
- They felt we were giving too much attention to a sibling
One idea that I love to offer is that we come up with signals to use with our child. We agree that a soft, cuddly bear or maybe a cute giraffe will mean: “I love you Jenny, I can tell you’re grumpy. Would you like a hug or some alone time to calm down?” When I hand Jenny that bear or giraffe, she agreed ahead of time that it signals that mom loves her and knows she’s hurting. If you want more info about signals check out my Being a Calm Parent YouTube video or 13 -Anger Management podcast check out the links in my show notes.
Well, I hope some of these steps can lead you and your kids to a happier, healthier, and less grumpy place in the future. Try a few of the steps. Take is slow. Grumpy kids can be pretty prickly.